Mike’s Top Ten of 1930-1939

There are two decades throughout film history that have very definitive tonal shifts in them. The 30s is one, and the 60s is the other. The 30s has the shift because at the start of it, the industry was getting used to telling stories with sound, and then they were getting used to what they could or could not portray up on the screen. And, by the end of the decade, they not only had everything down pat, but along the way color got introduced, and they managed to turn it all into a well-oiled machine that would continue up until the 60s, when it all came crumbling down.

Going into this list, I suspect it will skew much more heavily toward the end of the decade, with at least half the list coming from 1938 or 1939. Partly because there’s so few films from those early years that I truly love, and also because, as I said earlier, they got the hang of everything toward the end and the product just felt better. Not to mention, 1939 is one of the single greatest years in the history of cinema. Which also helps.

For methodology purposes, the way I compile these Top Tens of the Decade lists: I take my top ten for each year of the decade, throw them all together, and simply whittle it down until I find what I feel are my ten favorites from that decade. Not the best, my favorite. That’s really all it is. I feel like if I can figure out what my favorite films of all time are, then I can figure it out by specific decades.

Mike’s Top Ten Films of 1930-1939

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Gone With the Wind (1939)

It Happened One Night (1934)

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The Thin Man (1934)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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So yeah. The list is almost entirely comprised of films from 1937, 1938 and 1939. That’s 7 out of 10. 1934 has two of the other three spots, with 1930 getting an entry.

The Thin Man is my favorite film of all time, so that should come as no surprise. Gone With the Wind is a top five for me. The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are top twenty. That’s almost half the list right there, practically done for me.

The Adventures of Robin Hood and Bringing Up Baby are in my top 100, so those were easy add-ons. I couldn’t have guaranteed spots for them, but just as they made that top 100 for me, they managed to fend off the competition and land spots on the final list.

Snow White is such a game changer for cinema that I almost had to put it on. Between its importance in cinema, the fact that it’s far and away better than most other films of the decade, and the simple fact that it’s been a part of my life since I was an infant — it really deserved a spot on the list.

The last three spots were interesting. All Quiet on the Western Front is one of those movies that, while I don’t rewatch it a bunch, it astounds me that it could be that good for the year it came out. It holds up as one of the greatest films ever made, and it really is one of those movies that belongs here. It Happened One Night is so incredible, and that just felt right. It’s pretty high on my all-time list.

And then Make Way for Tomorrow, which is just so wonderful and so unheralded. If you think Tokyo Story is one of the greatest films ever made, know that film is loosely based on this one. It’s so touching and is one of those films that I hope more people today go back and watch.

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  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • City Lights (1931)
  • Dodsworth (1936)
  • The Gay Divorcee (1934)
  • Grand Illusion (1937)
  • M (1931)
  • My Man Godfrey (1936)
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • Swing Time (1936)
  • Top Hat (1935)

A smattering of other films I really, really like. Another Thin Man (or rather, a second Thin Man, since Another Thin Man actually does count as a film that could make this list) had to make an appearance, and the initial sequel is the best of all the sequels, even though they’re all great. Fred and Ginger had to make an appearance somewhere, since I love their films. They managed to get on here three times. All three of those films are absolutely terrific, and Shall We Dance just missed here out due to lack of space. I just love their collaborations.

Grand Illusion was #11 for me, and barely missed the top ten. Shit happens. Stagecoach, likewise, also just missed. It’s a benchmark in the genre. My Man Godfrey is an amazing comedy and probably is in that top 15 for me for the decade. I love it. I wish one of these days someone would restore it properly. Because all that’s really out there are those shitty public domain copies.

M is just incredible, and is one of Fritz Lang’s best. Still holds up. And City Lights, to me, is Chaplin’s best film. I know the others are incredible too, but that one might be the best of them all.

And that final film is one that I wish did make the top ten of the decade, just because I love it so, so much: Dodsworth. If there’s one thing I would stress upon anyone reading this article, it’s how good the movie Dodsworth is, and how much of a hidden gem for all time it is.

The only years not to make an appearance here are 1932 and 1933. Those are the overall weak years of the decade.

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